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Managing Messy Food

For the past month you have been attending more than the usual number of parties and receptions, and the end is not yet in sight. You knew before you arrived at these business related events that you were expected to be on your best professional behavior. No letting down your guard so you prepared ahead of time.

You thought about who would be there, what you would wear, and what you might talk about. You had something to eat before you went so you wouldn't rush straight for the bar and the buffet table. You arrived on time so you wouldn't have to play catch up or interrupt people already locked in conversation.

After working the room a while, you decided to eat. Of course, you stopped at the bar first so with drink in hand, you headed for the hors d'oeuvres, picked up the chicken on a skewer, dipped it into the sauce and took a bite. Unfortunately the chicken didn't slide right off the skewer so you began tugging at it with your teeth. About that time the boss walked up. There you were with a glass in one hand, chicken in the other and sauce running down your chin. Two questions came to mind: how did you get into this mess and how are you going to get out of it? An ounce of prevention was definitely worth a pound of cure.

Here's how you might have avoided this humiliation altogether.

Do one thing at a time. Either have a drink or a bite to eat. It is difficult to juggle food and beverage and still have a hand free for shaking hands.

Avoid any foods that may get messy. If you do attempt the skewered meat and dipping sauce, have a napkin in hand help you manage the runoff. Hold a napkin under any food eaten with your fingers.

It is easier to manage food that is passed, but before you take one of those giant stuffed mushrooms, consider what will happen if you pop the entire thing into your mouth or if you bite into that juicy tidbit. If there is risk involved, wait to see what else comes along.

When food is served with a toothpick, discard it properly. The toothpick never goes back on the serving tray. If a container is not provided, put the toothpick in your napkin, on your plate, if you have one, or on the tray that the server is using to collect empty glasses.

And keep in mind that double dipping is forbidden. Once you have dipped the asparagus in sauce, you don't get another opportunity with the same item. You want more sauce; have another asparagus.

If you end up with something in your mouth that you don't like or can't chew, transfer it from your mouth to your napkin when no one is looking. Then find a wastebasket or the tray for the used plates and glasses.

Proceeding with caution and remembering that these events are not about the food will keep you out of embarrassing situations.

(c) 2006, Lydia Ramsey. All rights in all media reserved. Reprint rights granted so long as the article and by-line are published intact with all links made live.

About the Author: Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate trainer and author of MANNERS THAT SELL - ADDING THE POLISH THAT BUILDS PROFITS. She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, Investors' Business Daily, and Entrepreneur, Inc. Her programs, products and services are available at

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